Brynn called us late one night two weeks after the baby was born. Could we come help her with things while she finished up the project for her company. She was lucky to have the job because she could work at home and Todd had never had a job. He was an artist--computers. So, of course, Hugh and I packed up the Focus and were off like a shot the next morning for the ten hour drive across three states to Indiana. When we walked in that evening, Brynn did not turn around from the kitchen sink where she was eating a peach, the juice dribbling down. We kept standing in the kitchen door expecting her to turn her head at least, or to say with mouthful of a Georgia Belle, “Glad you folks are here. The baby’s great.” But, she never turned her head, never said anything. Their kitchen was so small and we were both large—starting diets the first of July--so with the three of us, it was tight. Todd was in the next room with the baby who was making little baby grindings, like a toy. So, we stood there and answered the questions that had not been asked. “We had a good trip, stopped twice, once in Huntington. Traffic wasn’t too bad, and the rain didn’t really start until a little bit ago.”
Nothing. So, we trundled backwards past Todd and their new baby daughter, Andrea Walker, named after two of Brynn’s aunts, into the small living room, then started unloading the car in the almost dark. By then it was almost nine. We found the guest room, a funny name for a room with a bed with no sheets or lamps, just a weak overhead bulb, but we put all our stuff there in a corner, not hanging up anything because the closet was full of boxes. Then I took the cooler bag into the kitchen where Brynn had finished the peach and had gone into her and Todd’s room and shut the door. I took out the things I’d brought from our freezer at home, stocked from Sam’s over the past month, hoping that we’d be asked to come help with the baby. Really asked. Not like the “if you want to come” invite we got to the wedding.
This cold shouldering went on for six days. On the seventh day, not like God who rested, but exhausted from having to use the bathroom but not knowing where the towels or toilet paper were kept. From having to eat sandwiches from the chicken we’d brought. The chicken I’d crockpotted on the third day. We said we thought we’d go home the next day. Then, like speeded-up global warming, Brynn made us feel welcomed, talked to, laughed with, and we, so desperately relieved, so happy, we instantly got over our camping experience on the frozen ice plains of their tiny house, mortgaged to the hilt. But the next morning as we were leaving, Brynn rose up from her computer to kiss Baby Andrea in my arms and asked if we could stay two more nights because her boss had added an extra component to her assignment. We said, of course, we could. We refused to admit that the one day when we were expected to leave was sunny; when we said “of course, we would stay,” the icy skies fell again, from Brynn, though she was the one who asked us to stay. It was as clear as an email in all caps: I DO NOT WANT YOU HERE. It was also clear that Todd had all he could deal with. No job, depressed wife, new baby. We did not give any sign that anything was wrong, that our body temperatures were at dangerously low levels, that there was no feeling in our extremities, and it was July.
Jesus would point out that Todd had been out of work for a year, and that Brynn’s mom had just been there to help out for two weeks. She is very close to her, calls her Angie, which sometimes sounds like Angel. Angie, we were told by Todd, held the bottle higher so the baby did not get bubbles. Two more days of severe blizzard. Then, the morning we packed up to leave again, the sun came out and the icy slopes glinted.
Hugh says that it’s a good thing that the Stockholm Syndrome exists. He means that we accommodated ourselves to the conditions in the little house. He understands from his therapist this way abused people act. It took a week plus the two extra days--beginning that first night with Brynn in the kitchen eating the peach and ending a century later with our pulling out of their driveway—-for us to adjust to camping life at the Pole, but we did. We never even looked at each other to commiserate, and we never slept in the same bed because I slept on a futon in Baby Andrea’s room so Brynn and Todd could get some rest. Hugh couldn’t sleep in the bed that had a thin foam rubber pad for the mattress. The dog that had been treated like their first child was locked out and ran around the house all night scratching at the little windows and doors, whimpering and whining.
We feel sure that we could go back. Could survive. Once, we did swear we would stay in a Super 8 or Microtel if we ever got asked back. We didn’t mean it, but we haven’t been asked back. Even when Baby Andrea went to the emergency room with an allergic reaction to her new formula. We are in denial about our camping at the South Pole and grateful to be.
Hugh heard a story on the radio about a dyslexic boy who finally at eleven learned to read by imagining himself in the body of a boy who could read. And, bingo, he said, he could read! This story about power has helped us immensely. We imagined that we were happy with Brynn, Todd and Baby Andrea, and bingo, we were. We see our polar expedition as a good test case, and we are grateful for the bingo.
About the Author: Susan Pepper Robbins's novel ("One Way Home," Random House) was published when she was fifty, in 1993. Her stories have been online and on paper and have won some awards (The Deep South Prize). She is a Southern grandmother who teaches the novels of Jane Austen in rural Virginia.
Story Song: "Bach, A Strange Beauty" by Simone Dinnerstein